By CHRISTINA CARREGA and AARON KATERSKY
(NEW YORK) — A New York City police officer with a history of excessive force accusations turned himself in on Thursday, four days after he allegedly was seen on video using a recently banned chokehold on a suspect.
David Afanador faces up to seven years in prison on charges of strangulation and attempted strangulation if he’s convicted.
The 39-year-old, represented by veteran police union attorney Stephen Worth, entered a plea of not guilty.
The June 21 incident was captured on a bystander’s cellphone and posted on social media. In the video, Afanador and other officers are seen surrounding Ricky Bellevue, who’s face down on the Rockaway Beach boardwalk.
Afanador allegedly placed Bellevue in a chokehold as other officers handcuffed him.
Within seconds, the 35-year-old man’s body appears to go limp as he loses consciousness, according to a press release from prosecutors.
Only after another police officer pulls on Afanador’s back does he remove his arm from around Bellevue’s neck, the video allegedly shows.
According to the press release, footage from body cameras shows the officers were cursed at and badgered.
“We will fight this case vigorously,” Worth said.
Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act that banned chokeholds throughout New York.
“The ink from the pen Gov. Cuomo used to sign this legislation was barely dry before this officer allegedly employed the very tactic the new law was designed to prohibit,” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said in the press release. “Police officers are entrusted to serve and protect — and the conduct alleged here cannot be tolerated. This police officer is now a defendant and is accused of using a chokehold, a maneuver we know has been lethal.”
Hours after the video went viral, Afanador was suspended, an internal review was launched and the Queens District Attorney’s Office began a criminal investigation.
Bellevue suffered injuries to his head and neck and was not charged with a crime, according his attorney Sanford Rubenstein.
Prosecutor Christine Oliveri consented to release Afanador on his own recognizance, and he was ordered to surrender his passport.
“He has no criminal history, and we are confident he will come back to court,” Oliveri added.
Queens Criminal Court Judge Danielle Hartman agreed to release Afanador without bail and ordered him to stay away from Bellevue.
The 14-year veteran is expected back in court Aug. 3.
“The arrest of NYPD Officer David Afanador is the first step in getting justice for Ricky Bellevue. The next step is for this police officer to be convicted and sentenced to jail,” Rubenstein added.
This is not the first time Afanador has been accused of using excessive force.
When Afanador was with the 77th Precinct in Brooklyn, he and his partner were charged by the Brooklyn District District Attorney’s Office for beating a 16-year-old alleged drug suspect. The 2014 incident was captured on surveillance video and allegedly showed Afanador pistol-whipping the teenager in the mouth, breaking some of his teeth.
After a 2016 bench trial, Afanador testified on his own behalf and told Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun that the injuries Kaheem Tribble sustained were not intentional. The judge acquitted Afanador and his partner of assault, official misconduct and criminal possession of a weapon, court records show.
The federal lawsuit Tribble’s mother filed against the city and officers was discontinued in 2018 after the criminal case ended without a conviction, according to court documents.
Prior to the Tribble case, Afanador was one of several officers named in three federal civil rights lawsuits where restitutions of $70,000 and $37,500 were awarded in two of the cases.
In an October 2008 incident, Afanador and four other officers from the 77th Precinct were accused of unlawfully stopping Ranique Williams while he tried to photograph the officers conducting a strip search in the street, according to a lawsuit filed in the Eastern District. Williams further claimed he was subjected to a false arrest and assaulted.
The lawsuit settled for $37,500 in April 2010 with no admission of wrongdoing, according to court records.
In March 2011, Afanador and two other officers with the 77th Precinct allegedly jumped the curb in an unmarked car and cut off George Smith from walking. During the stop-and-frisk, Smith injured his shoulder and knee, and broke his clavicle, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.
The officers were accused in the lawsuit of falsifying a police report, in an attempt to justify stopping Smith. Smith filed complaints with the Internal Affairs Bureau and the Civilian Complaint Review Board. The lawsuit settled for an undisclosed amount in 2013 with no admission of wrongdoing.
The following year, Afanador and two other officers were accused in another federal lawsuit of unlawfully entering a family’s apartment without identifying themselves. The officers allegedly ransacked the apartment and caused neighbors to intervene where racists comments were made by an unidentified officer, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit settled for $70,000, according to online records.
Since the 2014 fiscal year, the total cost incurred to address the consequences of alleged NYPD misconduct has amounted to some $1.3 billion, according to the city’s comptroller office.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.